- Jun 13, 2002
Daniel is a man motivated not so much by greed but the desire to explore and conquer with wealth being a nice bonus. He claims to be a family man, but his actions in the picture put this into question from scene to scene, ultimately, perhaps, being his undoing. As Daniel sits and talks with his brother, Henry (Kevin J. O’Connor), he explains how he doesn't see anything worth liking in people (he hates them in fact), still leaving us to believe his son is exempt from this contempt. Once we see Daniel's response to an accident involving H. W., we see his hatred applies to all and he kneels at the altar of exploration and beating (literally at times) the other guy. Eli's twin (we're assuming) brother asks Daniel to come to the little village of New Boston to investigate the claim there is oil, and Daniel finds Eli's strict religious ways a hindrance to his path. Daniel charms Eli's father, but Eli is not so easily swayed by the dominating oil man and he takes it upon himself to show Daniel the light using money as an admission price to Daniel’s soul. Eli is conflicted with his role as well: he knows he's a sinner and we question how much he truly believes his own preaching as a means of spiritual enlightenment or another way to achieve some form of power. Perhaps Eli sees too much of himself in Daniel, and vice versa, leading each to take great and vicious measures to stomp this out of the other. Daniel's path is evident quite early in the picture and when we arrive at the inevitable conclusion we are not surprised. Eli shows up for one last confrontation with Daniel only to learn, too late, that such evil is not so easily stamped out of others let alone oneself.
Anderson's direction of this picture, shot lovingly in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio showing off the desolate vistas of unincorporated California, reminds us of Ford's westerns and at any time you think you may have just seen John Wayne slink out of the edge of the screen. The director spends time on his actors and their expressions and allows Day-Lewis to transfigure himself into Daniel Plainview. Day-Lewis is obviously known for bigger than life roles, such as Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York but there he knows the outrageousness of Bill transcends reality. Here, any shred of Daniel Day-Lewis is obliterated by the Plainview persona in changes to his speech pattern, his physical movements and the deadly twinkles in his eyes. From the first wordless fifteen minutes of the picture we see a man motivated by his lustful romanticizing of capitalism and the pursuit of such nearly kills him. These trivial setbacks only drive his passion further to become who he is, a trait that can't even be interrupted when his surrogate son is the victim of a tragic accident. It is in these scenes that we as Americans, who share a pioneering, capitalistic spirit, can almost understand Plainview's "the show must go on" actions after H. W. is injured. We may not condone these actions, but we understand them.
Good and evil, or the battle between God and the Devil, is constantly on display, but it seems to be interchangeable for both Daniel and Eli. While we understand each character's motivation for their work, we will alternately agree or disagree with their justifications depending on the situation. One curiosity I have about the story was Anderson's use of Paul Sunday, Eli's twin brother, to lure Daniel to the Sunday farm to validate his claim of oil. The Paul character is quickly forgotten and barely spoke of again, leaving me to wonder if "Paul" was actually the devil himself luring Daniel to California as a test to not only him but Eli as well. Once Daniel arrives at the Sunday ranch, he is careful not to tip his hand as to the true reason he is there. When he eventually meets Eli, Anderson holds the camera on Day-Lewis to allow us to see Plainview figuring out what to do. To confront Eli with "Paul" may endanger Paul's role in the Sunday family, but to not find out gives the possible "Eli-in-disguise" identity a leg up. Eli later confronts his father about how he and Paul have let the devil into their midst. He mentions Paul here again, finally, but in the context of this scene I still would question just how tangible Paul is. Is he a construct of Eli's mind, a split soul who is both good and evil where the true identity cannot reconcile this battle? As for Daniel, does he see H. W. as his alter ego, the one person who could absolve him, or at least drag him kicking and screaming to some type of salvation? The final scenes of the picture go a long way into answering these questions, and the last words spoken by Plainview leave us to wonder just how much subtext he (or Anderson) implies. It is here where through the sheer spectacle of what just happened and what was just said, Anderson almost tests our believability in these two characters in slapstick fashion. Ultimately, it is us who make these decisions through the vessel of Paul Thomas Anderson, our newest media minted master whose violent meditation on Capitalism v. Religion simply makes us ask these questions.
I wanted to make special mention of the soundtrack, composed by Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood. Once you have seen this picture a couple times you realize how much of an impact Greenwood’s score has on each scene. His use of shrill and screeching strings heighten our tension and constantly keep us on edge. I have listened to the soundtrack independently of the film and it was good for a one time listen. In the picture it is an integral and necessary part to the overall texture of the movie.
Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 11-S1 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 1080p. I am using a Sony Playstation 3 Blu-Ray player while a Denon 3808CI does the switching and pass through of the video signal. I am utilizing the HDMI capabilities of each piece of equipment.
There Will Be Blood is mastered in 1080p in the VC-1 codec with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The picture has a limited color palate that allows us to focus on the dirty deserts of California contrasted to the pale blue skies. When some of the richer colors of flesh tones or flames come into play, the image really comes alive. Each of the actors faces show all the sweat and grime of the environments very accurately. Anderson shot many scenes towards dusk and twilight capturing some beautiful and colorful images. Black levels, however, are inconsistent. The first fifteen minutes of the picture with Daniel in the well has blacks that come off as dark gray and they make the image look flat. Later in the picture the blacks retain the inkiness of the oil, but when this darkness hits the actors and sets, a lot of detail is lost. Sharpness and detail are good. The image shows much of the graininess of the original 35mm film stock and this only enhances the viewing experience. I noticed a minor amount of edge enhancement, but it does not detract from the picture.
The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack was attained by the HDMI connection of the PS3 to the Denon 3808CI.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is very front heavy, remaining in the fronts for most of the picture. The surrounds engage during some of the more action oriented scenes, such as when the wells gush or catch fire, or when there are more interesting things in the environment, such as trains. The front channels display excellent panning and localization of effects and it provides a very convincing soundstage. Greenwood’s score works in conjunction with the rest of the track and it seems to hang in the air around the vocals and other effects. I had a good time pointing to where I was hearing specific instruments Greenwood used to see where they appeared. The score also spreads to the surround channels slightly more as a means of presence than actual discreet effects. Bass levels are good without being overbearing. ADR is noticed at times, but vocals otherwise were normal sounding.
The bonus materials are in HD, but they are set up rather simply. Hitting the “Extras” button on the menu takes you to another menu where you can watch 31 minutes of this material. The first segment of fifteen minutes is images from the film compared with vintage photos used as inspiration. While it’s not what we’re used to in bonus features, it still makes its point. This segment also has a number of unused scenes and shots excised from the released version of the movie and not part of the deleted scenes coming up. Next up is the teaser trailer and the final trailer, followed by a couple of extended and deleted scenes. Finally there is a segment called “Dailies Gone Wild” which could not have been more poorly named.
The only other piece of bonus material is The Story of Petroleum, a circa 1923 black and white film that explains the oil business of the day. While it smacks of a lesson ripped from 8th grade history class, it is quite relevant to the main feature and it answered some questions I had about the oil drilling process. This piece and all the others are set to Greenwood’s score.
A note on the packaging: the insert is double sided so you can choose the portrait of Plainview that was on the theatrical posters or the more movie rental friendly picture of him in the oil field. The packaging also contains a double sided postcard featuring a couple pictures from the movie. The disc comes in the standard plastic Blu-Ray case, not the cardboard case of the DVD release.
This movie was my pick for best picture of last year upon first viewing. Having seen it again and being able to concentrate on the themes and characters themselves, I only like the picture more. I will thank your indulgence with this review as I focused more on these themes and characters as opposed to the limited overall plot. Paramount has done a good job with the disc providing an accurate representation of what was seen theatrically. I’m left a little unfulfilled by the bonus features though.